Don’t be a food martyr, and speak up if you don’t like what you ordered! I’ve never felt comfortable giving negative feedback at a restaurant, and was a little nervous to complain. But I learned that a polite conversation with your waiter about a dish you didn’t love is always on the table. Yeah, it may feel awkward, but why pay for something you didn’t eat? And maybe the business learns a thing or two in the process. In my case, The Dan Dan Noodles were removed from my bill, and I left happy and satisfied from the experience.
Walk into Bar Pilar and you might expect to see Hemingway himself knocking back an old fashioned at the helm of the mahogany bar. If the giant sailfish that greets you isn’t a tip-off that you’re about to enter Old Man and the Sea territory, the large Hemingway mural on the way to the bathroom might.
Yes, Bar Pilar is a shout-out to the novelist’s 38-foot fishing boat named — you guessed it — Pilar. But this cozy little bar and restaurant offers unexpected flourishes and flavors that go beyond your typical bar (or boat?) food. Even better? This place eased my fears about speaking up when I don’t like something I order.
Strike while the homemade chips are hot, and by that I mean, come at happy hour, and you’ll be offered an array of six bar snacks for a mere $3 to $9. Depending on your love of carbs and level of vegetarianism (I only eat fish), you can’t go wrong with any of the choices. I went for the $3 Toasted Sesame Onion Dip, which came with a generous bowl of homemade, perfectly browned, not-too-greasy potato chips. Pair that with a $6 Old Fashioned that puts a little hair on your chest, and you’ve got a date with the creepy wooden mermaid hanging above the bar. The dinner menu is a bit pricier, but you do get solid portions for the price.
While the website states that the restaurant uses only “the freshest products from local farmers,” two out of the three farms listed appear to be in New Jersey. Now, I’m no geography wizard, but is New Jersey local? Similarly, Hemingway doesn’t exactly evoke a local DC vibe, and the restaurant makes a tenuous connection to research he contributed to the Smithsonian. I’m all for a literary theme, but this seems like a bit of a stretch. The site also touts their focus on fresh, seasonal, and organic produce, which I can’t confirm or deny. But I can say that the vegetarian options far exceed the painfully mediocre veggie burger or depressing pasta primavera that get top billing for the carnivorously impaired on most bar menus.
All The Feels
Several bearded men in flannel shirts waited on me, but luckily not the bespoke hipster kind who are too cool to do their job. These were genuinely friendly, helpful servers who just happened to like plaid shirts and burly beards. Bonus points for giving out pirate vibes to fit the boat theme. I couldn’t eat one of the dishes I ordered (more on that below), and the waiter was super cool about it, which added to my positive feels factor. I was content and cozy basking in the moody candlelight with the quiet din of female wrestling on the bar TV. Ok, so typically a TV in the bar area is a no-go for me, but it’s totally fine on a weeknight. And the other patrons were so into the wrestling, who am I to begrudge them a little Tuesday night entertainment? I was rocking out to the Boz Scaggs playing in the bar area, so there’s truly something for everyone here.
What I ordered
The aforementioned Togarashi Chips and Toasted Sesame Onion Dip ($3), along with the Old Fashioned ($6) were a highlight. I also tried the Apple Bottom Jeans Slushie ($6), which was like drinking a frozen cinnamon apple cider without a hint of alcohol. Not what Ernest Hemingway would drink, and likely not something I’d drink again, either.
For dinner, I had the Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai, Papaya and Peanuts ($16), which, in allseriousness tasted better than Pad Thai with noodles. That’s something a Goop follower would say, but I assure you, I don’t have an all kelp, vegan, organic, negative-carb diet. The squash had an al dente, not-too-mushy texture, and the peanut and papaya added crunch and flavor. Still high on this delicious take on Thai cuisine, I realized that it might be junk food masquerading as health food, when I noticed a pool of oil at the bottom of the dish.
The other entrée I ordered was the Veggie Dan Dan Noodles, Fried Tofu, Chili Oil, and Szechuan Pepper ($20), or what I refer to as the time it felt like my tongue took LSD. After a couple bites, I started to feel this vibrating sensation in the back of my tongue. Soon after, my taste buds started firing off bursts of sour explosions — a sure sign my mouth had entered the Twilight Zone. Desperate to understand what was happening, I considered the possibility that I was a test subject for genetically altered ginger root. It turns out it was just the work of the Szechuan pepper, which, as the waiter put it, has a “mouth-numbing quality.”
Liquid dessert was in order, and I settled on the House Red ($11, happy hour had ended), which calmed my taste buds and nerves, and was actually quite delicious.
Total Bill: $42, without Dan Dan Noodles or tip factored in.
Now that I’ve got my Bar Pilar sea legs, I’ll be back for more. And this time I’m looking at you, cheese plate.